Close up of unrecognizable doctor trying to vaccinate its patient while he is refusing it.
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With the expiration of the federal public health emergency, New Jersey and California are among the states ending some pandemic-era requirements while retaining others.

Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed an executive order lifting COVID-19 testing requirements in congregate care and healthcare settings, including assisted living communities. The order also lifts vaccination requirements for employees in congregate care settings. 

But employees of healthcare settings — including assisted living communities — still will be required to provide proof of vaccination.

The order follows the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises that routine screening is no longer recommended in certain high-risk settings and that risk-based assessment helps inform COVID-19 mitigation and response strategies.

“This will have a tremendous impact on providers to be relieved of the burden of routine testing,” Pattie Tucker, Health Care Association of New Jersey spokesperson, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “It will also help in the promotion and attraction of new members in the long-term care workforce. We are very encouraged that the governor recognizes the ability of long-term care providers to balance safety and quality of life.”

In August 2021, Murphy signed an order requiring certain healthcare and high-risk congregate care settings to vaccinate all workers or submit to COVID-19 testing at a minimum of one to two times weekly beginning in September 2021. In January 2022, Murphy issued an order requiring those settings to require workers to be up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations, including a booster dose. 

“Despite the extensive progress made in combating COVID-19, and the ability to lift certain mitigation protocols, there remains a critical need to ensure the safety of healthcare workers and vulnerable patient populations seeking care in healthcare settings, and to safeguard against potentially severe health outcomes and death in those settings where enhanced infection prevention and control measures are needed most,” the order reads. “Waning immunity among healthcare workers increases their susceptibility to the virus and can place further restraints on the state’s healthcare workforce, threatening the ability to provide critical care to individuals.”

California provides mixed bag of COVID requirements

California lifted its COVID-19 masking requirements in healthcare settings on Monday, but two Bay Area counties — Contra Costa and Alameda counties — are keeping masking rules in place in skilled nursing facilities. 

Monday, Los Angeles County announced it was implementing continued masking requirements for workers in healthcare and direct care settings, and COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare workers. 

Meredith Chillemi, director of regulatory affairs for LeadingAge California, told McKnight’s that the association is concerned about the ongoing mask mandates in assisted living communities in those three counties and asked them to align with the state and federal masking guidelines in residential settings.

“Residents are becoming increasingly frustrated and challenged by communicating and connecting with masked staff and visitors in their assisted living communities,” Chillemi said, adding that alignment with state and federal recommendations will provide relief for staff and ease the “growing tensions” for all who see the end of mask mandates in other state settings and assisted living communities, but not in those three counties.

“Aligning with state and federal recommendations will ease the major barrier to hiring that mandatory masking creates and greatly improve communication and the overall residential living experience for older adults,” Chillemi said.